As a Central Florida-based writer who bounces between New York and California, I'm sometimes guilty of falling into the elitist trap of overlooking any culture between the coasts. But as Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness," and my recent visit to the Indianapolis Fringe Festival opened my eyes to proof that there's much more to Indiana than pace cars and Mike Pence.
I was drawn to last week's IndyFringe – as were more than a dozen other Orlando-associated artists – by its new associate producer and former Orlando Fringe executive director, George Wallace. Once there, we found a city with some elements that put Orlando to shame, such as the vast Indianapolis Museum of Art, and a Portlandia-esque foodie culture (I now know what cow my coffee creamer came from). We also discovered a Fringe Festival with future potential that reminded me of our own in the early aughts. While there, I took time to interview my fellow Floridians about their experiences in Indy, and their observations about what each city's fest could learn from the other.
Jay and Diana Hopkins Producers of Jester Theater and Fringe "fanatics"
"We came to Indy for a family visit, and because we wanted to come and support Orlando performers with shows here. We also came to see George in his new role, and wanted to see a different Fringe Fest besides Orlando. It's great that Indy has a large air-conditioned location for mingling with the artists and hearing about their shows, plus a place to regroup and look at the program to choose shows. It's a room not just for artists, but for theater patrons too. The Purple Venue [at Orlando Fringe] used to be this type of space. We also loved that most venues had a snack bar or food and beverages available, and the restaurant and bar options on the same street as all the theaters. It made having lunch easy. Indy needs a better program with a daily schedule, [and] the shows should not all start at the same time, so the atmosphere at Fringe central would be more lively. Wheelchair accessibility was an issue at several Indy theater venues; Orlando has no issues with disability accommodations."
Lindsay Taylor Producer of Lil Theatre Co.
"Indy fringe was a lot of fun! It was the third festival this summer for our particular show [Clockstoppers] and the gracious audiences really helped the show find its groove. At Indy, I like the [smaller] amount of shows presenting, and that all the shows were presented in non-BYOV venues. I appreciate Orlando's opportunity for as many artists as possible to present shows, but with fewer options in [Indy], I think it helps audiences fill the seats. I think Orlando really has a great rhythm in regards to artists' social life, but I would love to see more downtime activities and ways to network in the city [like in Indy]."
Beth Marshall Producer of Dolly Parton Saved My Life
"Indianapolis is not cookie-cutter, and it's cheaper. But why this festival has a place in my heart is that it's a smart business. They own their own building through a capital campaign; there's no other U.S. Fringe festival that owns their own venue. They've kept it small within walking distance, grown at a reasonable pace, have money in their bank account, and have art worth seeing. But they're not better than Orlando ... Orlando is still the best in the U.S., and third-best in the world."
Ryan Morris Former Orlando Fringe associate producer
"Indianapolis has a great arts scene; there's always something unique to see or do. Indianapolis feels more like a community to me. There's sort of a Hoosier mentality. It's a good-sized city with a small-town attitude, but it's big enough to be accepting of all sorts of people."
Genevieve Bernard Artistic director of Voci Dance [full disclosure: also my wife]
"I'm glad we got to take Paint Chips on the road. Indy seems to be an arts community that appreciates dance. I loved, loved, loved that there was great public art all around and in between the Fringe venues – sculptures, murals, art installations that made you think – and the access to local restaurants and bars. Orlando is really great at communicating with the artists about what to expect, and with patrons about ticketing and queueing. It's a different vibe."
Paris Crayton III Writer-performer of Spare the Rod
"Indy is not as diverse as Orlando, but [for] my first time doing a solo show, I'm having a good time. Spare the Rod is an autobiographical story about my life growing up as a victim of child abuse and coming to terms with my sexuality. It's musical theater: I sing, I rap, I dance ... it's fun, until it's not. I love the fact that George is here. Indy is a beautiful city, the weather has been kind of hot but nice, and people are friendly here. But still, it's nothing like Orlando. Here, we have to promote each other's shows, that's the biggest thing – we have to help each other out."